Aware that some European countries do not view a common migration policy as an immediate priority, Greece is making a point to push for a single asylum system and a more coordinated management of illegal migration flows into Europe during its six-month EU presidency. EURACTIV reports from Athens.
“Without safety and security we cannot have an economic recovery,” Nikolaos-Georgios Dendias, Greek minister of public order and citizen protection, told reporters in Athens.
In recent months, hundreds of people have died trying to reach European shores. Last October, 356 African immigrants drowned when their boat capsized shortly before reaching the Italian island of Lampedusa, near Sicily.
Greek officials are quick to point out that the issue is not only humanitarian. It is also an economic and political problem in the run-up to the European elections in May, which is already seeing far-right parties setting up an anti-immigration platform for their electoral campaigns.
Greece intends not only to find ways to mitigate the impact of new migratory flows coming from troubled areas of Africa and the Middle East, notably Syria, Libya and Somalia, but also pave the way for more legal migration, which would benefit the economic recovery.
Measures for fighting irregular migration focus on readmission, fighting smuggling and the trafficking of human beings, as well as capacity building for border management.
“We need a more integrated and effective management of the borders,” said Dendias. But effective, means more funding.
Frontex, the EU's border management agency, had a budget of almost €86 million in 2013. However, the agency is currently dependent on member states’ contribution and support. That means it does not have its own technical equipment, it just borrows what is made available by the EU's 28 member states.
Nonetheless, Greece, which is the main point of entry for over 50% of recorded illegal immigrants, has beefed up, security measures since 2012 with the help of Frontex, especially along the border of Turkey, reducing the number of illegal refugees entering the country.
“There is a genuine concern regarding the exact role of the agency [Frontex], its activity and whether it is under control”, said Angeliki Dimitriadis, a researcher at the Hellenic Foundation for European and Foreign Policy (ELIAMEP).
Dimitriadis argued that the agency had evolved rapidly and had evolved capacity building, readmissions, border supervisions and joint operations with third countries.
“It places too much emphasis on deterrence and despite having incorporated the Charter of Fundamental Rights, it does not accept that any human rights violations in the area of operation are its own responsibility, claiming it is instead the responsibility of member states,” she added.
Dublin regulation under attack
Now more than ever, the EU needs to come up with clear guidelines that would be dictated by solidarity, added the Greek minister, stressing a deadline for the June European Council, after the EU elections.
Unhappy with the recast of the Dublin regulation on migration coming into force in July 2015, Greece, which voted against it, intends to initiate a debate on equally sharing the burden of new migratory flows across the 28-country bloc.
According to the regulation, immigrants can seek asylum only in the country of entry in the EU and that country must process the applications of asylum seekers.
Greece and other Southern countries – Italy, Malta and Spain – complain that because of their geographical position they are the ones that need to process thousands of asylum applications.
“You have to explain why a country of 10 million has to deal alone with 1.5 million refugees,” Evangelos Venizelos, Greece’s foreign minister, told reporters.
According to Dimitriadis, even if arrivals to Greece stopped tomorrow, inflows would increase at other points in the EU.
“Europe is delaying the adoption and implementation of a comprehensive migration policy, but the most important problem is that it remains divided between the need to respect human rights and the need to reduce the number of persons irregularly entering its territory,” argued Dimitriadis, adding that the controversy remained evident in the policies being adopted.
Crisis-hit Greece took over the reins of the EU Council of Ministers on Wednesday (1 January) with a record low budget of €50 million set aside as the “absolute maximum” to run the presidency during the next six months.
While analysts have predicted Greece will require more aid, albeit on a smaller scale than previous bailouts totalling about €240 billion, the troubled country has vowed to spend considerably less than other countries' presidencies.
Greece takes the helm of the EU at a critical time, just months before the end of the current European Parliament. This means that Greece will have less than four months to deliver on complicated dossiers, rather than the full six months.
The main presidency priorities are the European Banking Union, growth and jobs, migration and a European maritime policy.
- 1 Jan.-30 June 2014: Greek Presidency of the EU Council of Ministers